Arizona | Lot 147

1954 Kaiser-Darrin Roadster



$176,000 USD | Sold

United States | Phoenix, Arizona

15 January 2015

Chassis No.
  • Long-term history in prominent private collections
  • An outstanding restoration
  • Exhaustively documented and researched

Model KF-161. 90 bhp, 161 cu. in. F-head Willys “Hurricane” inline six-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission with overdrive, independent front suspension with wishbones and coil springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 100 in.

Legend holds that Howard Darrin’s design for a sports car built of that new post-war miracle material, fiberglass, did not particularly move industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. Kaiser was a practical sort, and there wasn’t much practical about this sporty roadster. For his wife, Alyce, it was another story altogether, and in the end, Henry J.’s salesman side gave the lady what she wanted.

The Kaiser-Darrin was America’s first production fiberglass sports car, with its prototype built before the Corvette, although production did not begin until 1954. It was powered by the reliable Willys six-cylinder engine, and its design became a legend of 1950s motoring, with sweeping front fenders that plunged behind the doors into a “Darrin dip,” a split windshield, and a distinctive “rosebud” grille, which, it was commented, always looked like it wanted to give someone a kiss. Most fascinating of all were Darrin’s beloved “pocket” doors, which slid forward into the front fenders to permit entry and exit. Darrin promoted sliding doors for decades, claiming that as they did not open into traffic, they were a very safe alternative. They were never an idea that’s time had come, and they were the Kaiser-Darrin’s trademark, being its best-remembered feature.

The shame was that the dashing Kaiser-Darrin came at the end of its manufacturer Kaiser-Frazer’s decade-long lifespan. The snazzy roadster wound up being a one-year-only offering, with only 435 produced.

The car offered here was restored beautifully by brothers Stan and Andy Schaefer, of Burnsville, Minnesota, who scrupulously researched its history and authenticity, accumulating what is probably the best historical and research file of any Kaiser-Darrin, and it accompanies the car today. The car was finished to a jewel-like standard of craftsmanship, featuring Yellow Satin paint, outstanding chrome and trim, a correct “three position” top, and side curtains. At the time the current owner acquired the car, only its upholstery showed signs of wear; it has since been appropriately restored in Ferrari-quality, custom-dyed Edelman leather and now shows to the same high standards as the rest of the car. The owner notes that the undercarriage is as spotless as the rest of the car, and the chrome is fantastic.

This car is an AACA First Prize winner and was formerly part of several noted private collections. It is one of the finest restored Kaiser-Darrins known, and it is backed by outstanding reference documentation and beautiful detailing in every nut and bolt.

Suggested lots